Hell’s Tourists in the Fields of Glory


Visiting D_____

I visited D_____ in jail this morning. I had to register well in advance of the visit which meant I had a fair amount of free time before the visit. I had intentionally not brought a lot of stuff with me because you can’t take much at all in for a visit. This gave me a fair amount of time to walk around downtown, in and through the parks among the throngs of homeless lounging about surrounded by all their worldly possessions that most of us would regard as junk. Dozens of men and women lounging on park benches or in shaded spots spending their day, a few panhandling. Recently the local news did a piece on the new morning routine of moving the homeless so the courthouse can conduct business.  

Our new mayor has made this a major priority to help these people off the street into adequate shelter. May God bless his work.

All of this was poignant of course as I pondered my visit. How would he be? Would he cuss me out or welcome me or something in between?

An inmate accompanied him up to the visitor booth to help him figure out how to put the proper code into the phone so we could talk. D_________ was in his orange jumpsuit, hobbling up the stairs looking rather diminished. His hair was nicely cut and he’s grown a close cut beard. He hasn’t had many visitors (he says none). He’s seen a nurse and a doctor and is on medication.


Once we got the phones working he immediately launched into the defense of his innocence and how wrong it is that he is in jail. He wants to get out to resume his old way of life. Did I still have his stuff?

I tried to steer the conversation away from trying the events that put him in jail. Let’s talk about the future, what he’s facing, a plan for addressing what is likely the inevitable. He wouldn’t have it.

Would I be willing to testify on his behalf?

I told him first that I was not a witness. I would testify for his need for treatment.

Back to the old reality. “I’ll leave if you ask me to…”

This is shocking because I’ve asked him to leave dozens of times. I’ve thrown his things away. I try to point out that there is no going back in any way or form. He’s likely looking at prison for a while and he should focus is energies on that. He won’t hear of it. Somehow he’s got to establish his innocence and get out and back to his spot in front of my office door.

He began our conversation by thanking me for coming and telling me that me stepping over him to get into my office was the highpoint of his day. Ah, the good old days.

Um. I was there. It wasn’t the highpoint of my day nor in most cases did he express anything but annoyance at me interrupting his drunken slumber. Nostalgia has set in. Life now is worse than life then.

I remind him again that he cannot live at the church and that he needs to get a plan to move towards a better future. I realize that my words are pointless. His body may be in jail, but his mind is in a far stronger prison.


My visit reminds me of reading CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Angels and saints greet the tourists from hell/purgatory who’ve come up on the bus to take a look. On the outskirts of glory the antics of the shades are tragic and insane. They are easily damaged by words or blades of grass and hardly anything will break the spell of the insanity.

I have no reason to believe D________ presented me with an act this morning. There would be no reason for it. He believes in his innocence. He believes that some injustice is done against him. He truly wants to return to a life he regularly cursed.


I wonder if he will turn. Some turn before their death. Others go to their grave cursing their family, their neighbors, their pastors, the government, the world.

Turning is a funny thing. Through one perspective it looks like responsibility where we say “regardless of whether or not I’m a victim of injustice I need to look to the future and take responsibility for my mind, heart and actions.”

Through another perspective, like of the first step, we announce out powerlessness and turn our lives over to someone else who can save us. In response to this we then begin to act in accordance with that new reality and try to mend the past as we make a new future.

I knew I had no words to turn him. I pray for his turning.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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1 Response to Hell’s Tourists in the Fields of Glory

  1. David Nederhood says:

    Well said sir. Many parallels here to my experiences with Oakland’s houseless population.

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